Beck comes to the rescue

 

PERCEIVED injustice has been the outstanding feature of Middlesbrough's season and it was a theme continued last night when they dominated from start to finish against a Nottingham Forest team of limited ambition only for these two relegation-troubled teams to share the points.

Mikkel Beck's second-half goal may have cancelled Alf-Inge Haaland's early strike but Alan Moore nearly gave Middlesbrough a merited win three minutes from time. Still, seven points in six days represents a fair haul for Middlesbrough, now one point behind Sunderland and West Ham. Forest's efforts put them above Coventry and they will take heart from this defiant performance.

Middlesbrough should have gone ahead in the first minute when Beck was put in the clear by a deceptively delicate flick from Clayton Blackmore that exposed Stuart Pearce. Beck had several options but, ambitiously, chose to shoot and Mark Crossley made a comfortable save.

However, the ease with which Middlesbrough created the opening should have boosted confidence in their ranks and shaken Pearce. Instead, two minutes later, the next significant action belonged to Forest. Pearce ran on to a typically cute pass from Ian Woan and surged down the left.

From about 30 yards out the Forest player-manager swung in a deep cross to the far post. There Pierre van Hooydonk chested the ball down, a ploy that fooled Curtis Fleming, and delivered a half-volley that Mark Schwarzer did well to block. Unfortunately for Middlesbrough his parry rebounded to van Hooydonk, who calmly placed a header towards Haaland six yards out. Haaland's task was simple and he made no mistake.

A snap-shot from Juninho was caught by Crossley, who then made stops from Craig Hignett and Moore. But the home side's best chance of a first-half equaliser fell to Beck, or at least it should have.

Not for the first time Emerson surged from midfield and delivered a superb, sly ball into the striker's path. Seeing Crossley sprint off his line, however, Beck appeared to duck out of the challenge. The fans were furious - in Middlesbrough's position commitment is the minimum they demand.

In the 56th minute Middlesbrough got their deserved equaliser.

Cox started the move before Juninho eventually supplied him on the right side of Forest's penalty area. The defender put in a low cross that bisected Colin Cooper and Crossley. From four yards, not evens Beck could fail to score.

Sensing a fifth successive win might now be theirs, but also that a single mistake could cost them all the points, the atmosphere at the Riverside changed from raucous to nervous.

Even though Forest had long been reduced to total defence the wisdom for home caution was underlined 10 minutes from the end when van Hooydonk turned on to a Scott Gemmill pass. Although Bryan Roy, on as a substitute for Dean Saunders, met it on the run in the six-yard box, the Dutchman astonishingly sent the ball wide.